What’s Up With Kyle?

Kyle Busch

(WOMR file photo)

It is the beginning of the Sprint Cup season, a time when Kyle is usually on fire, dominating and winning races, but, so far the Joe Gibbs Racing driver is ice-cold!  For the past few years Kyle would start the year like he was shot out through a cannon!  However in 2012, the JGR #18 M&M’s Toyota has totally under performed.  That race team has not won a race since August of 2011.

The JGR #18 M&M’s Toyota has been besieged by a plethora of problems that is totally not indicative of the quality of race teams that JGR puts on the track.  Although he hasn’t won a Chase race since his rookie year, Sprint Cup performance for Busch has rarely been a problem early in the year, when his #18 has traditionally led laps by the truckload, feasted on short-track stops, and seemed capable of winning any race at any time.

Additionally, Kyle’s Camping World Truck team, Kyle Busch Motorsports, which was always the class of the field, has experienced the same lack luster performance as the JGR #18 Toyota.  In the past short history of KBM, when the #18 Toyota truck was entered into the race, that was the truck that everyone had to beat.  This year, however, Kyle is not chauffeuring that truck in the Camping World Truck Series.  Instead, Kyle has chosen to hire Jason Leffler to pilot his truck.  That truck team is not even a factor in any of the races so far this season.  With Leffler behind the wheel, the KBM truck has languished in 26th place in owners points.

Kyle started a Nationwide team for 2012.  That race team, too, has experienced mechanical problems.  Kyle drove the first five races in his  own car, obviously trying to get the car into the top 35 in points, to ensure a guaranteed spot in the Nationwide races.  That experiment did not prove fruitful for the KBM Nationwide team.  The KBM #54 Monster Energy Toyota, likewise, is relegated to the near cellar door in points!

Granted, there have been issues with his Cup team, like getting caught up in an accident at Bristol, or running over an air hose last week at Texas, the latter of which almost certainly cost Busch a top-10 finish. There have been bright spots, too, like a sixth at Phoenix or a runner-up performance at California in which the #18 car dominated the first half of the race. But there’s also little question that Busch’s vehicles are off just enough to keep them from posting more consistent results or challenging for race wins on a regular basis.

The reason?

Crew chief Dave Rogers said his team got behind in the offseason, in an effort to bring new Joe Gibbs Racing crew chiefs Darian Grubb (the new crew chief for Denny Hamlin’s team) and Jason Ratcliff,  (Joey Logano’s new crew chief) up to speed. Rogers had been more accustomed to working with former crew chiefs Mike Ford and Greg Zipadelli, who each parted with the organization after last season, and a transition period ensued after the new signal-callers moved in.

As with everything in racing, so much of it comes down to the cars. Busch says he hasn’t been completely comfortable in his vehicles this year; the more comfort a driver feels in a vehicle, the more he’s able to trust it to do what it’s supposed to do, and the more speed he can get out of it. “We’ve been missing a little bit of comfort in cars this year,” Busch said, something that’s been evident in runs like Las Vegas, where the team struggled with handling all day, and even a recent tire test at resurfaced Michigan. Rogers said there are new cars coming down the pipeline that will help the team dig out of its hole. Busch looks at the upcoming schedule and tries to stay positive.

“We’ve had our frustrations, but we’re just taking it one week at a time trying to get ourselves back up there,” he said. “It does seem a little late in the year to not have a win for us yet, but Bristol is really our only track that we win at early in the year, and we got wrecked. Richmond coming up, that’s always a good one for us. I love going to Charlotte. Dover’s always really good. So I’m not worried by any means. There’s still a lot of racing left. I think we can get ourselves back in the top 10 on our own, and there should be some good races during the summer where if we do need some wins, we can win.”

Patience is something Busch has learned to show a great deal of this season, and not just on the Sprint Cup side. Kyle Busch Motorsports’ first season on the Nationwide tour has been a mighty struggle, with Kyle and older brother Kurt combining for a single top-10 finish in six events thus far in the Kyle Busch Motorsports #54 Monster Energy Toyota. Busch said he’s been at KBM less this year than at any point since he started the company, trying to make it more self-sufficient and able to succeed without him around. For someone with two owners’ championships in the Truck Series, the shortcomings are difficult to watch.

So I ask again, “What is up with Kyle”?

What is your view?


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